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The complicated future of Luis Suarez at Barcelona

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Barcelona v Real Sociedad - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Not many transfer signings over the past decade have surpassed expectations like Luis Suarez.

In just four seasons with Barcelona, Suarez has cemented himself as one of the best strikers of his generation. In 198 appearances for Barca, he has recorded a remarkable 152 goals and 84 assists. He is also among the most decorated players in the club’s history with 11 trophies. The Uruguayan striker has quickly risen up through the Barca record books as well. Hs goals mark currently ranks 6th all-time in all competitions for the club, which is an incredible feat considering the fact that Barca have had some iconic strikers over the past decades with the likes of Romario, Rivaldo and Samuel Eto’o.

Time and time again, he has also delivered when it has mattered the most. From his goal in the 2015 Champions League final to his six career goals against Real Madrid, Suarez has proven that he has the clutch gene in him.

Juventus v FC Barcelona  - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

While his reputation among rivals has dampened a bit as of late, there is no denying that his play and production over the years is deserving of high praise. In his short time with the club, it is fair to say that Suarez has established himself as a Barca legend.

Even after his grand short-term success, could his time with the club soon come to an abrupt end?

Now while there have been no major rumors out of Spain that would lead to speculation about a potential transfer move nor have the board externally discussed the matter, his future is a complex one.

At age 31, Barca might have already seen the best of Suarez and his play could potentially begin to deteriorate. To an extent, the 2017-2018 campaign provided glimpses of what the decline of Suarez might look like. Overall, Suarez recorded an immense 31 goals and 18 assists in all competitions but for the most part, his play was streaky. The season featured Suarez going eight straight Champions League games without a goal and eight straight La Liga games with a goal.

When he was at his best, he played liked the best striker in the world but in his off games, it was ugly to see with missed chances and questionable decision-making. For example, Suarez was virtually unstoppable in the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla as he scored two goals and was a lethal threat in the box. In contrast, he struggled in the home game against Malaga as he missed a crucial chance and made a couple of poor passes throughout the game. With Suarez, you get the best of both worlds.

Now it is common for strikers to have their fair share of outstanding and poor performances but the inconsistency that Suarez showed last season should be a concern and something that should not become the norm for the next season.

What makes his future a complicated and conflicted one are the pros and cons on both sides of the spectrum.

Suarez is beloved among Barca fans and his team-mates. The grit and passion that he displays on the pitch in every game is what every coach advocates for from their players. From his character on the pitch to his personality off the pitch, he is a major piece of the team chemistry that holds the team together.

Barcelona v Real Madrid - La Liga Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

In terms of his play style and how he fits with the team, he is a near perfect match. What has made him so successful with Barca over the past four seasons has been his unselfish manner, which is a rare trait among strikers. His ability to balance a score first mentality and a playmaking one has made him thrive alongside Messi. His off-ball movements in space have disorganized defenses. When he has possession, the movements on the flank and up front as a striker have added a new, unique dimension to Barca’s attack.

Just this past season, he adapted well to playing under Ernesto Valverde’s 4-4-2 formation alongside Messi up front. Even with his declining speed, he was still able to make deep runs into the opponent’s half to disrupt defensive tactics.

As alluded to before, what makes Suarez’s situation an intriguing one is the eventual decline. He has begun to show the wear and tear of a long career and over time, his body will not be able to manage the heavy responsibilities that will be demanded of him. Not many strikers as of late have had multiple world class seasons after the age of 31. One exception is Zlatan Ibrahimovic during his time with PSG but to an extent, it is not very difficult to score 30+ goals per season with a superb supporting cast and against subpar defenses in Ligue 1.

Suarez’s perplex situation becomes even more complicated when examining his finishing ability. He did score 31 goals but wasted numerous more chances and missed on shots that he would normally score on.

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Now as what has been proven over the last decade, Barca does not have much patience with strikers. Whether it could be for factors such as declining play, age or inability to fit into the system, the board will sell strikers in order to improve the position and the team’s quality of play. In Suarez’s case, he will be next if his overall play begins to head downhill.

The decision will eventually come where the board will have to decide on whether to move on and sell Luis Suarez. He is currently under contract until the 2020-2021 season with a €200M release clause but the board could negotiate for a lower the price if an interested team makes an offer.

All signs point to Suarez returning next season even if Antoine Griezmann joins the club but after that, it is all up in the air.

His play this upcoming season will be the major indicator on whether he will have a future at the club as it could be determined on a season by season basis. The form of Suarez is crucial to the team’s overall performance and if he can accumulate consistent, top quality seasons, then his future with the club will not be a topic of debate.